Category Archives: family

Feeling lost

The whole family went out to dinner last night, including my parents and uncle. The celebration behind the occasion was to get together before my dad went on a cross country excursion, and my kids left for another 10 days at their dad’s house. So we all met up at La Vera’s restaurant in Santa Rosa during the Wednesday night market.

Following the dinner, Taz and I went to the bathroom before he left, except he took a really long time to come back out. So we came up with the brilliant plan to disappear around the corner and hide from him as a joke.

Except there’s nothing funny about an 11-year old who comes out to an empty table and thinks that his whole family has abandoned him.

Vintage Taz (circa 2011)

At first we thought it was hilarious, and we stood silently giggling as his back was to us and he surveyed the area. But when he turned at us with a shocked look on his face, quickly replacing it with a wide smile when he saw our familiar faces, I could see the thoughts racing through his head. Behind that smile was a valiant effort to keep the tears at bay. And any humor I found in this was instantly replaced with feelings of shame. I had placed my son in a position of facing his biggest fear – of being forgotten. Beneath all his bravado, silliness, and attention seeking behavior is an effort to make himself noticed and remembered. And it’s possible that it’s all an act to ensure he won’t be overlooked. And here he was, shaken up by a mere 10 seconds when he felt the most alone at the expense of his family’s amusement.

Needless to say, I feel like a horrible mom.

The poor guy kept his smile plastered on his face, doing his best to not even let on the appearance of tears. But I wasn’t fooled. I’m not sure anyone else in the family besides me even knew just how hard he had taken it. I tried not to make a huge deal out of it so he wouldn’t feel embarrassed or start to really cry. But I couldn’t help but apologize profusely and then insist on holding his hand for most of the walk back to the car. I overcompensated by acting ultra silly until he was finally past the point of wanting to cry and no longer wanted to hold my hand.

Ok, practical jokes are normal in families, and our family is no exception. It’s a rare day when a sarcastic quip or humorous tease doesn’t occur. But that still hasn’t stopped me from reliving that moment, and then mentally bear hugging my still-so-young son in protection against his horrible family.

The kids leave today for their dad’s house, and this time I’m not ready. The first excursion I couldn’t kick them out fast enough. I just needed a break from being a mom, and welcomed the quiet a kid-free house would bring. During that time, I heard from my daughter several times about how she couldn’t get along with her dad, begging me to come home. And I even got a call from their dad who was at a loss about how to deal with a hormonal teenage girl. Naturally I wanted to fix it all. I encouraged my daughter to talk with her dad when they weren’t on speaking terms, and I gave my ex pointers on how to handle the emotions of a stubborn and delicate daughter. But I eventually took a step back and stopped absorbing their problems. It wasn’t mine, it was theirs. And it was up to them to make it better. By the time they came back, they had wordlessly patched things up, and they also had a new brother (their stepmom had her baby the day before they were to leave). I had thought they were going to fight me on going back, but both kids were enthusiastic about returning in 5 days time.

And here we are, 5 days later, and it’s time for them to leave again.

Vintage Wine Country Mom and kids (circa August 2010 in San Diego)

During the last few days I have felt the need to soak up as much time with the kids as I could. It seemed like both the kids were too. They each had their own separate times of spending quality time with me. DQ hung with me at the kitchen table, both of us perusing catalogs and gabbing about this and that. Taz took time away from his video games each night to hang out and watch the Olympics with us. He kept prodding me to play a board game with him during this time, but time just got away from us. Now I wish I had.

They’re only going to be gone for 10 days. When they’re back, they probably won’t see their dad for a few months. I’m starting to see a tiny portion of what he goes through when he says goodbye, because I’m really, really going to miss them. And it’s possible that for the first few days, I might feel just as lost as a forgotten 11-year old kid.

7 tips for busy moms

This article publishes in the Press Democrat on July 13.

One of the favorite phrases of kids is, “I’m bored.” You know, as in they have nothing to do, would like to be entertained, have finished all the play they had on their list of things to do and literally don’t know what to do with themselves.

I do not understand the concept of boredom.

Seems like once you have children, being bored becomes a luxury. If I’m not carpooling kids, making something to eat for a hungry child, signing paperwork for school/camp/sports, attending a dance recital or soccer tournament, cleaning up in front of the adolescent tornado following me around, or entertaining said-bored children, I’m mulling over all these things on a constant rotation in my head. And if I ever get on the verge of this so-called “bored” feeling, it’s usually overcome by guilt over all the things I think I should be doing.

Moms are busy creatures. There isn’t much time outside day-to-day family life that allows for us to have down time or an opportunity to reconnect with friends. However, time away from the “have-to-do” stuff is just as vital as checking off every item from that to-do list.

Here are a few tricks I’ve learned along the way in balancing the seesaw between my personal self and my job as mom:

1. Have a list, but keep it short. I know you have a lot you need to do, but weigh out those things that need to be done now, and those that can be done later. When you are making out the list of tasks you hope to accomplish that day, ensure that it allows for a finishing point rather than a competition in getting the most things done in a short amount of time.

And on that note …

2. Don’t procrastinate. This is why a short list is important. Turn off the TV and avoid anything that might be distracting (besides the kids). Then, get the big things out of the way first before focusing on the easier tasks. The longer you avoid your must-dos, the longer they take up residence in your head. And seriously, there’s got to be better things to think about than your to-do list, right?

3. Keep things clean. Have a set day each week for deep cleaning, and a set time each day for a quick tidy up. Get the other family members in the habit of picking up after themselves. Make sure the dishes are washed after every meal, and clean as you go while cooking dinner. It might take some effort at first, but after a bit of repetition, it will become second nature. If your house stays fairly neat on a regular basis, you won’t be stuck constantly cleaning it — or embarrassed when people drop by unexpectedly.

4. Learn how to say no. I know, the world needs your help. The classroom might fall apart if you don’t volunteer as snack mom. The soccer team will cease to exist if you aren’t the one making the banner. And how will all the neighborhood kids get to school if you’re not the one driving them? Trust me, everything will go smoothly even if you’re not the one getting it done. Take back some of your free time by practicing an assertive NO now and again, from signing your daughter up for another dance class to being the family taking care of Sniffles the Hamster for the summertime.

5. Rediscover your ME time. Let Dad take over the kids while you rediscover your love of painting. Grab a book and head to a secluded grassy knoll. Take yourself out to coffee. Do what you love all by yourself without kids hanging off your legs. But careful, this newfound freedom is intoxicating!

6. For all you married gals, date your husband. You know, that guy who lives with you? The one who signed up for this crazy mess with you and is still around? Leave the kids with Grandma (or set up an after-bedtime candlelit dinner) and remind yourself exactly why you keep making kids with this sexy guy you’ve married.

7. Find your friends. Before you had kids, you were going out all the time. So what happened? Well, you had to trade in your beer goggles for diaper genies, that’s what. But even after kids it’s important to have interests outside of Elmo and sippy cups. If going out is difficult, invite your friend to hang with you at the park, or to just enjoy a cup of coffee at your kitchen table. Catch up over a morning walk around the neighborhood. When you start raising a family, it’s especially vital to have friends around to support and love you.

Too much to chew

I believe I bit off more than I can chew this week.

I’d planned for this week, as you’ll remember from my meal planning post. I knew that it would be crazy busy. But I thought I could handle it all plus cooking dinner for the family. And for the first couple of days I could.

Sunday was our softball game, and I had the whole meal prepped before we got there. We lost miserably, but enjoyed one of my favorite dinners of late, the miso cod and Japanese salad.

Monday was another easy day. The game ended up being just practice, but that still meant I had to leave work in Santa Rosa early so I could rush to Petaluma and drive Taz back to Santa Rosa to the field. I grabbed a few things from the grocery store while he practiced, then picked him up and brought him home afterwards. One practice cost me 60 miles in commute. Oy. The meal that night was Shrimp Louie, and I totally second guessed myself on whether the amount of food was enough for the iron stomachs in my house. So I added a plate of leftover BBQ chicken and a twice baked potato on the side. As it was, no one touched the chicken, but the potatoes were much appreciated.

After dinner, the teens and I even conquered a little Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred. Frizz wondered if that was all there was to it. DQ and I tried to reattach our worn out limbs. Truthfully, I noticed a difference in my stamina since I’ve been running regularly. But I was definitely noticing my muscles more – especially when I went to climb the stairs. Jello city!

Of course, when I went to sit down, Mr W lovingly reminded me that I’d planned on prepping dinner for the next night. Ugh. So I dragged my ass off the couch and went to prep the gnocchi eggplant casserole. Omg. It was heavenly to taste. I even set aside one that wasn’t smothered in cheese. And then I mopped the floor since I ran out of time on Sunday.

Tuesday was the Taz’ game which meant 60 more miles of commute after leaving work early again. (Granted, I was making up these early leavings by skipping my lunch and showing up early in the morning. But it still doesn’t make me feel any less like a slacker.) I rushed Taz to the game where his team annihilated the other, and then made it back home to eat by 8. I then prepped the next night’s meal of tortellini soup.

That looked like caca.

Oh man, this one did not look good or smell good. I was really worried about it. But what was I going to do? I finished making it and stuck it in the fridge for Wednesday. I went for a short run since my legs were a little sore from the Jillian Michaels DVD, but still needed to burn a few calories. And then all 5 of us sat down for some mandatory wedding cupcake tasting at 10pm to help me add those calories (and then some) back in.

I know. Life’s rough.

Wednesday I could barely move. It seems that Jillian Michaels conquered me. I re-found out last minute that DQ had a camp get-together that afternoon that I completely forgot about, plus she needed to bring a snack, plus she was spending the night at a friend’s house. Oops. Another early trip home, a trip to the store for chips and dip, and then back home where I had an hour to kill before I had my hair appt. I pulled out the soup and saw it was kind of chowdery, so I added some more chicken broth. The smell coming from the soup was quite delicious, a far cry from the detestable soup I was witnessing the night before. I whipped up some biscuits and left them wrapped in a towel in the still-warm oven so that Mr W would have dinner all ready when he came home, and then fixed myself a bowl. O. M. G. This one totally took me by surprise. The Taz so could not eat enough of it. Mr W, on the other hand, didn’t like it very much. Too bad.

It was about 10 pm that night when DQ texted me, informing me that she needed a ride home from her friend’s house the next day. I had my whole day mapped out to a tee. I was already leaving work early again for Taz’ counseling in Petaluma. And I’d already told DQ that she could stay with her friend IF she had a ride home. This threw a wrench in the whole system. We finally figured it out through all sorts of acrobats in scheduling and all is well with the world.

I’ll move Heaven and Earth back tomorrow.

Today is Thursday, and I’m exhausted. I’m at the finish line of the week, and I’m struggling to find the motivation to not bury my head under a pillow and hide.

One more day. That’s all. One more day to go.

The dreaded Family Meeting

Mr. W, my fiancé, and I have been stumbling a little in our blended family adventure. I wouldn’t say it’s been awful – we’ve been more successful than not. But there are little things that have served as speed bumps while combining households into one. And when we went to counseling to learn how to tackle those hills, we had definite questions for our therapist, particularly these:

What our role was as a step-parent. How to give direction to a kid that isn’t yours. How to not take it personally when a step-kid was being totally unreasonable. How to get the kids to actually talk to each other instead of tattling to us. Learning how to let go of some of our own expectations in favor of one that involved all of us…

“Why don’t you try a family meeting?” our therapist asked. And I inwardly balked at the suggestion. I mean, it was a great idea in a family TV series kind of way, where everyone already gets along and then hugs by the time 30 minutes ends. But ours was not that kind of family. Instead, we were the kind of family who could grumble about what the other members were doing – as long as the offending member was out of earshot. I was better at listing my irritations to the group as a whole rather than just talking to the person directly. And the last time I felt it was safe to hug my step-son was two Christmases ago before he left on a ski trip with his mom. In fact, this last Easter my mom patted my step-son’s growing mane, and my eyes nearly fell out of their sockets.

A family meeting was a terrifying idea.

However, I wanted to prove that I would try anything in the name of unity. So I told the counselor we would do it, and to put it on the agenda to talk about this week. Then I went home and placed FAMILY MEETING in big, bold letters on our calendar.

“You should just call it a Gripe Meeting,” my step-son muttered when he saw it. My kids were gleefully enthusiastic about listing every single one of their complaints, especially the ones that had to do with flatulence.

“Save it for the meeting,” I finally told them.

Meeting day finally arrived. After dinner, we all piled into the living room. Mr. W, Frizz, Taz, and DQ all stared at me expectantly, waiting for me to lead how this was going to go. In my lap was a notebook with a few guidelines jotted down, and ready for me to record the important points of the meeting.

“Ok, here’s the rules,” I told them. “First, whoever has the floor gets to speak. That means to wait your turn. Second, one of us will always take notes during the meeting. Today it will be me. Next, we’ll each get a turn to talk about the stuff that’s been bugging us. But before we do that, each of us has to say one nice thing about everyone in the room.”

You could have heard crickets chirping. After a brief pause, they all looked around the room and let out a few nervous giggles. Taz went first. He was silly about Mr. W and his sister, but when he got to Frizz, he told him how much he loved it when Frizz played baseball with him.

“You’ve been an inspiration to me in running,” Frizz told me sincerely, speaking about both of our efforts to hit the pavement that had been proving to be a source of connection between us. We all agreed that DQ was hilarious and a huge help, and that Taz was great at baseball and did extra tasks without complaint. I admired Frizz for how dedicated he was to the things that mattered most to him. And I thanked Mr. W for his efforts in orderliness and schedules that allowed our home to run as smoothly as it does.

When it came time to “gripe”, it started off slow. Luckily, I had jotted down a few complaints I had overheard throughout the week. Suddenly we were all remembering the issues we’d had, and were even laughing about them, all of us able to relate to the “suffering” at hand. A few changes could be made immediately. And a few things would take a bit of time through trial and error. 27 minutes later, the meeting adjourned and we were all smiling and feeling good.

It felt like overkill to schedule weekly meetings for our family. But we all agreed that this was a great idea to implement on an as-needed basis. I’m starting to think that maybe my therapist has some good ideas up his sleeve after all…

A resolution to slow down

By the time the new year rolls around, I’m more than ready.  There’s something ceremoniously cleansing to be able to let the past year go, along with all its triumphs and pitfalls, and start over fresh with a clean slate and good intentions.

This year I plan on making resolutions that include more than just myself.  While my resolutions for 2012 will include a few personal goals, I’ve decided to add a few goals that benefit my family.

I resolve to slow down.  Our calendar is full.  It almost always is.  If I see white space on it, I automatically think of all the things I’d love to do to fill that space.   A fully colorful calendar makes me incredibly happy.  But it stresses my family out.  This year I resolve to allow some of that white space to just stay white.

I resolve to create more one-on-one quality time.  It’s so easy for us to get caught up in our own personal stuff and forget the importance of staying involved in each other’s lives.  I’d love to make dates with each of the kids as well as Mr. W, spending some uninterrupted time together before going back to our own personal lives.  This means, putting down the iPhone and unplugging the video games, and maybe even getting out of the house to escape distraction or the temptation to plug back in.

I resolve to spend less time with my nose buried in technology.  That might seem like a personal goal, but it’s not.  My iPhone has become my greatest source of procrastination, as well as being an unworthy time-suck.   The result?  I end up more stressed out than ever because I’ve just wasted time I really needed to either do something specific or to just unwind.  Rather than playing games, surfing the web, or getting my news from Facebook, my time would be better spent reading a book, going for a walk, connecting face-to-face with a friend, or playing a boardgame with my family.

I resolve to make getting healthy a family effort.  I can’t say this is a new resolution, or even a failed resolution.  But it is definitely one I can improve on.  In this new year I’d love to discover more lunch and dinner ideas that focus less on starchy foods and more on vegetables and protein.  I plan on taking running back up, but this time inviting my kids in on the training sessions so we can get healthy together.   I resolve to include the kids more in meal making so they can learn how to cook healthy meals for themselves.  And I resolve that lunches or dinners out will be more of a special occasion rather than a matter of convenience.

I resolve to give more praise than commands.  It’s easy to bark orders at the kids.  Did you wash the dishes?  Your room can use a little sprucing up.  Could you please put your dirty clothes in the hamper?  Stop sitting on your brother.  Giving a honey-do list to the kids is easy to remember to do because all that stuff is staring me in the face.  But it’s harder to remember to regularly tell the kids what a great job they are doing, how much their efforts help me out, how proud I am of their work at school, or even noticing their efforts for looking presentable for school.  This year I plan on taking more care to acknowledge the things they are doing great.

I resolve to focus more on growing my child into an adult than falling back on lazy parenting.  This is my guilty downfall.  I allow my son to play too many video games.  I am lax with my daughter when it comes to enforcing rules or consequences.  I clean up after all of them to avoid struggling with them to get it done.  I threaten to toss all their errant socks in the living room only to quietly wash them and put them back in their drawers. What are they learning?  How to expect someone else to do their bidding.  This year I plan on cutting off the unlimited amounts of mindless screen time, enforcing the rules I set, and instilling awareness for ways they can help out so that one day they’ll be a mindful roommate, spouse, and/or employee.

And I plan on being easy on myself if I fail.  No parent is perfect.  We all have our off days.  But each minute of the day presents a moment when you can start over.  No one needs a new year to create new goals.  You just need a new decision.

Have you made any resolutions, family or personal?  I’d love to hear about them!  Email them to me at crissi@santarosamom.com.

Happy New Year from my family to yours!

Family FIVE

Happy Thanksgiving! The kids and I have been having fun adding up all the things we are thankful for this past month. From my first sip of coffee of the day to being blessed with comforts many take for granted, there are plenty of things to add to our Grateful Lists. I hope you all find plenty of things to feel grateful for as well.

Here are a few things that are going on this weekend for you and your family to do together.

Santa Rosa Holiday Open House & Tree Lighting
Downtown Santa Rosa
Fri, Nov 25th, 12-7
Holiday shopping is kicked off on Black Friday with a Downtown Holiday Open House from 12-5. Stores will be open with sales and specials, free gift wrapping, validated garage parking, music, and a raffle for the Downtown Gift Basket. The Sutter VNA & Hospice Lights of Life Tree Lighting Program begins at 6pm with more kids’ crafts, free pictures with Santa, live holiday music and the candle lighting and tree lighting ceremony.  facebook.com/SantaRosaWinterLights

Pirates, Legends, & Lore
Petaluma Museum – 20 Fourth St, Petaluma
Aye, ye scurvy bilgerats. Get ye to Petaluma Museum for the largest pirate exhibition in the Bay Area. View flintlocks, swords, a grappling hook, real cannon balls, plates from Sir Francis Drake, and more. Kids can make their own pirate flags, learn to tie different sailor’s knots, earn prizes, and a vast treasure chest of fun to be had. Plus, a real treasure hunt will unfold with a map that gives clues to a rare pirate coin worth $500. Exhibit open now till November 27th. petalumamuseum.com
Cost: $5 adults, $3 children

Hawaii Christmas Craft Fair
Sat Nov 26, 10a
Kehaulani Hula Studio (3210 Coffey Ln, Santa Rosa)
Hawai’i Christmas Craft Fair. Hand Crafted: Scarves, Bags, Prints, Cards, Ornaments, Baked Goods, Candles. Kēhaulani Hula Studio. Kumu Hula C.Pōmaikaʻi Gaui. Kēhaulani Hula Studio welcomes any and all who appreciate “All things Hawaiian!” kehaulanihulastudio.com

Santa’s Riverboat Arrival
Historic Downtown Petaluma
Sat, Nov 26, 11a
Watch as Santa and Mrs. Claus are brought in on the Petaluma River by tugboat, ready to meet all the kids and pass out candy. Come early and stay late to enjoy various street performers and festivities going on around the Petaluma shops.
visitpetaluma.com

Holiday Gift Faire
Nov 25-27, 10a
Sonoma County Fairgrounds (1350 Bennett Valley Rd, Santa Rosa)
There’s a reason this faire is scheduled for the biggest shopping weekend of the year. The list of vendors is endless as craftiers and artisans set up booths holding treasures untold for your holiday gift giving. Delicious food vendors, eclectic crafts and gifts, as well as visits with Santa.

Looking for more things to do? Check out our list of family events going on Thanksgiving week, as well as fun things to do indoors when the weather outside is frightful. You can also check out the SantaRosaMom events calendar, as well as the calendar on 707.pressdemocrat.com.

Have a thankful Thanksgiving and a wonderful week, and I’ll see you on the forums!

Crissi Dillon
SantaRosaMom.com

Thanksgiving foods, traditions, tips, and tricks

One of my friends was telling me about a trick he learned regarding turkey baking and the repeated task of braising it. He takes a pound of bacon and lays each strip across the turkey, allowing the bacon to do that basting for him. In the last hour, he removes the bacon, allowing the skin to get nice and crisp while the whole bird remains moist and delicious.

Another friend mentioned how one staple on her Thanksgiving table is a side of green beans and a chocolate pecan pie for dessert.

In my Italian family, Grandma’s raviolis are a staple. In fact, they are preferred even over the turkey. It looks like reporter Robert Digitale’s family feels the same way over raviolis, judging by today’s recycled story in his blog.

But this year I’ll be missing the raviolis in favor of a new traditional Thanksgiving at my soon-to-be in-laws’ house. Every year they hold an “Orphan Thanksgiving”, inviting all their friends and neighbors that have no traditional family gathering to instead bring a homemade dish and share in their feast. Each shared dish is celebrated, listed on a beautifully crafted menu that hangs on the wall, and then announced one by one. My mouth still salivates over the curried pumpkin soup one of the ladies brought in recent years.

How about you?  Any tips – from bird baking to fluffy mashed potatoes? Any not-so-traditional dishes making it to your table this year, or heartwarming ways you celebrate your blessings?

What are some of your own tips, tricks, and traditions for Thanksgiving dinner?